It is no coincidence that this new exhibition – a dialogue between Vincenzo Agnetti and Luca Pozzi – stands in temporal continuity with another exhibition that finished only recently: Le stanze delle predizioni. In fact, it takes its starting point from a look into the future and the new frontiers of art.
The tools and means by which art has been made have always played a decisive role in its production. As Agnetti himself said back in 1971, in an interview with Tommaso Trini:
“…I know that today the palette of the cultural worker, the artist and the painter has changed. There are no longer the colours yellow, red and green; there is a colour that is the sum of all colours, there is another colour that is philosophy, there is another colour that is electronic technique, there is another colour that is photographic technique, another that is literature, another that is nomadism, behaviourism or whatever you want.”
And today we should add the colour of new media – amid the aesthetic dynamics of the net in all their various forms, or in a stricter sense, that of works of media and virtual art – which often burst forth to try and draw in the viewer in an immersive or viral manner, creating an apparent discontinuity with the former artistic scenario. But the tools used by art have a force of their own, one that often conceals what is actually going on.
So here we find the need for a gaze that connects and explores similarities and differences along a historical continuum, one which reformulates the art of yesterday in relation to the research of today and the art of the digital media in relation to recent research. Almost a round trip that allows for further elaboration of what artistic expression drives and proposes.
Thus we thought of the dialogue between Vincenzo Agnetti and Luca Pozzi as a form of transgenerational research, in which technology and language constitute the plot of a discourse that bounces back and forth between the 1960s and 1970s and the early 2020s.
A close confrontation that begins with two sculptures, two generator machines placed opposite each other, two visions of the world staring at one another. To one side, the Macchina drogata (‘Drugged Machine’) of 1968; to the other, the Arkanian Shenron of 2020. On the one hand, we have the iconic Olivetti Divisumma 14, manipulated, ‘drugged’ by Agnetti to produce texts, incomprehensible messages shrouded in oracular mystery; on the other, Pozzi’s bronze dragon endowed with a particle detector, created in collaboration with the National Institute of Nuclear Physics, and a form of artificial intelligence capable of translating the passage of muons from space into messages with a divinatory edge to them, shared in real time on Twitter.
The exhibition continues with a digital comet reconstructed by Pozzi from original ESA (European Space Agency) stratigraphy readings, on which a number of Agnetti’s works are placed. This is the Rosetta Mission 2023 (RM 2023): a contemporary Rosetta Stone, a virtual place that is both a space and a symbolic connective object. It testifies to the possibility of breaking down barriers as well as territorial, disciplinary and temporal boundaries. A meta-place that may be visited in a more or less immersive manner, depending on whether you are being transported by a visor, a computer or no more than a smartphone.
On the upper floor, the performance Lezioni di design, presented by Agnetti during the 1976 performance days in Bologna, interfaces with Pozzi’s electromagnetic levitation platform, consisting of a tiny golden neodymium sphere floating a few centimetres above a carpet screen-printed with a digital collage design. A four-square-metre carpet that leads us into interstellar space amidst a meteorite, a virtual currency and a black hole. Here the atmosphere becomes more rarefied, ironic, suspended in anticipation of the irresistible unpredictability of the fall.
In a game of mirroring linked to language, we find a hybrid device midway between analogue and digital called a ‘third eye prophecy’ as well as a textual work which gives the exhibition its title, written by Luca Pozzi imagining himself to be Douglas Adams in a hypothetical, improbable but plausible past preceding his Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.
A dialogue that winds and rolls around time, and Agnetti’s Meridiana, placed almost as a comment on the exhibition, warns us: “Time is the mental weight of events. History has taught us this; we know it from our own biographies, but only works of art let us savour it.”
By Germana Agnetti.
“THE PROPHECY OF THE BOWL
I open my eyes once more.
As if it were something that had only just happened, I sense the re-emergence of the memory of a series of events that I had forgotten by heart, who knows quite how long ago. I was following a pair of high-heeled shoes as they made their way clumsily over a plum-coloured carpet. It must be the first time that man has worn them, I think to myself, without losing him from sight for a single second. He’s going to fall, he’s going to fall, bet you he’s going to fall now, I kept repeating to myself like a mantra.
But then, at a certain point, my attention was drawn away by a little crowd of people all staring at something that was taking place at a small stand, slightly set back to the left-hand side. I get closer too and try to elbow my way through the people and their cigarette smoke when, all of a sudden, I trip over a handbag carelessly left on the ground by a woman wearing a miniskirt. I almost fall head over heels like a complete idiot, but luckily, thanks to my quick reflexes and her bare shoulder, I manage to avoid the worst. Well done, Douglas, I think, all for one and one for fall – you wanted to enjoy the spectacle of someone else tumbling headlong no more than a few seconds ago, and now it’s me you throw to the ground like a beached whale in front of this whole crowd?
Luckily, nobody takes any notice, for they only have eyes for one of the most peculiar scenes of that 1976. A middle-aged man, slightly receding hairline, is wrestling with a microphone.
Before him, a makeshift table put together using two wooden trestles and a sheet of glass. On the table: a glass of water, a pair of specs with think frames, some scattered sheets of paper, a tennis ball, a dark-coloured bag and a bowl of petunias. He speaks to the crowd with nonchalance, with the air of one who had prepared a speech but then decided to wing it, because at a certain point he realises that improvisation is the real subject of his actions.
Then he picks up the ball from the table and casts it against the wall saying, with a hint of clear delusion: we know this wall is not the wall of light nor the wall of sound, and we know this is not the ideal surface, it isn’t the interstellar void, where each and every one of us could lay our thoughts to rest. The final words come to a halt to the rhythm of the melancholic bouncing of the ball on the floor.
I look around myself, observing the faces of the onlookers who, like me, seem to be simultaneously both present and elsewhere, and I wonder whether they have all been hypnotised like guinea pigs in an experiment that – as I realise only in that precise moment – I am taking part in as well. I shake my head as if seized by a nervous tic, and turn back to look at the man dressed all in black with a new gaze and renewed curiosity.
He is uttering these words:“I’m thinking about this table, about the perfection of this table, for example, yes – this table! This table has a non-ideal surface, because we know that the cases of the ideal surface that I mentioned before, just like the case of the wall, are always states rather than things, entirely impracticable given our biological dimension.
The use of anything always calls for a support.
Basically, the support represents the mediocre yet indispensable completion of the essential.” Then he pauses, and from the dark-coloured bag, he pulls out an indelible pen, black of course, and on a blank sheet stuck to the wall with sticky tape, he writes “5 AB”. He then moves quickly towards the glass table top, and there he also writes something I’m unable to make out properly. It almost looks like mathematical equations, as if consolidating a relationship between the table and the wall.
In my hallucinating mind, I immediately think of some kind of magic formula, and I almost burst out laughing imagining this stranger in his underpants, one summer’s morning, enjoying a breakfast of bread and alchemy. But the situation is extremely serious, and you could cut the air with a knife – an image I immediately associate with that of butter being spread over a piece of toast… That’s enough, Douglas, pack it in.
Then, as I make a great effort to be a better person, the unthinkable occurs: two wide-shouldered men walk up to the man with the microphone, who in the meantime has put his microphone down, presumably to have both hands free. Now they are going to have a fight, I think to myself, come on –fight time!But fight they do not: one of the two helps the ‘man in black’ to lift the sheet of glass with the glass of water still perched on top of it, the sheets of paper scattered all over it and the bowl of petunias, while the other takes away the two trestles from underneath it.
The, after an extremely long three seconds, they let go of the glass.
The sheet of glass hovers in the void for what to me seems like an interminable length of time; I see the water exiting the glass, and by the force of inertia, forms a sort of upside-down waterfall. I see the blank sheets mingle in the air, as if to make up a heavy cloud, laden with rain.
I see the bowl of petunias detaching from the surface of the table, impassive despite the tragedy being consumed all around it… It’s scattering soil in all directions but it clearly couldn’t care less. And then I see the one which, up to a few seconds before, was ‘the table’ – I see it as it thinks, “Oh, why am I not an ideal surface…? If I had been ideal, I would have hovered here in mid-air together with my thoughts, and instead, this big grey thing is charging towards me at great speed, and I still don’t know who I am…” Smash…
The table shatters into a thousand pieces as it gets friendly with the concrete floor. How sad, I think, a love story manqué, but then I consider my own position, and perhaps instead it’s the best love story ever – after all, who am I to judge? I immediately realise that the performance is not over, and I proudly think how I came in at the very height of it all, and that I am finally able to decipher this new language of contemporary art when the ‘table destroyer’ picks his microphone up from the floor and adds: “I was hoping for a miracle, that the surface might not break at all.
In this case, the surface entered a state of disorder and calls on its support. The support thus became more important than the surface itself. If on the other hand it hadn’t broken, and there was some degree of likelihood of that happening, we would have found ourselves with a latent state of surface, i.e. of table.”
And then he adds: “Now I’m going to say this – the performance has not taken place yet, it’s only just starting now. And it’s only fitting to pay tribute here to contradiction, for the performance is valid in its staticity and not in its movement, insofar as movement is the work, while I myself prefer peace and quiet…” At the sound of that word, “…qquuuuiiiieeeeettt…”, I feel my eyes snap shut, and the last clear-minded thoughts I can recall chalking up onto the blackboard of my inner consciousness were: Oh shit… I knew it was hypnosis.
Then that was it, and I entered a comatose state beyond the classical confines of space and time.I find myself hanging in the air among the clouds, and I’m falling at a quite dizzying speed. Beside me, a huge sperm whale, he too freefalling, who continues to blather things to himself, like:
“Ah…! What’s happening? Who am I, and why am I here?
What’s my purpose in life and what do I mean by who am I? Calm down, get a grip now…
Oh! This is an interesting sensation!
What is it? It’s a sort of…yawning, tingling sensation in my… my… well, I suppose I’d better start finding names for things, …so let’s call it… my tail!Yes, tail!
And hey, what about this whistling, roaring sound going past what I’m suddenly going to call my head?
Perhaps I can call that… wind! Is that a good name?
It’ll do…I’m quite dizzy with anticipation… Or is it the wind? There really is a lot of that now, isn’t there?
And what’s this thing suddenly coming towards me very fast? So big and flat and round?
It needs a big wide-sounding name like…
ow… ound… round… ground!
That’s it! That’s a good name – ground!
I wonder if it will be friends with me?
I listen to every word without losing my calm, but then I make the mistake of looking towards the ground onto which the companion of my misadventures has just come to a sudden, wet thud. It is then that I realise that I no longer find myself in my own body. No trace of any legs, hands, feet or chest at all! In their place, there’s nothing but damp soil, green leaves and little purple flowers…
I’m in the bowl of petunias… Or rather, I am the bowl of petunias…And at that moment, all the agitation and fear are gone with the wind, and I get ready for the inevitable impact as if I were the onlooker / actor of the umpteenth groundhog day whom nobody gives a toss about.
Almost bored and not in the slightest bit amused, I roll my eyes and mumble to myself:
“Oh no, not again.”
Written by Luca Pozzi
imagining himself as Douglas Adams
in a hypothetically unlikely yet plausible past
prior to the publication of The
Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy